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Last Updated: Monday, 27 November 2006, 07:54 GMT
Tim Vickery column
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Atletico Paranaense players troop off
Atletico claim to have a gauge of a player's 'sporting form' based on the number of times he touches the ball - but football is too fluid for this

Last week Pachuca of Mexico qualified for the final of the South American Cup, the continent's Uefa Cup equivalent, beating Atletico Paranaense of Brazil 1-0 away and 4-1 at home.

But if the margin of victory was three times greater it would hardly come close to reflecting the difference in the quality of play presented by both sides.

It should provide food for thought for many in Brazilian football.

There is no lack of thinking power in Atletico's ranks.

The club counts on the services of a group of high-powered academics, who help the players prepare as scientifically as possible.

They try to break the game down into its separate components - how much ground does a player have to cover, how many quick bursts does he make, how many twists and turns?

And then they come up with a multi-disciplinary training programme made to measure to help the players carry out these activities.

In fact, Atletico's approach is well within the recent tradition of Brazilian football.

Over the last four decades the technocrats have grown in power and importance, and many of the top coaches are now graduates in physical education rather than prominent ex-players.

There is no doubt that the technocratic approach has brought benefits.

Brazilian players are bigger, stronger, fitter. The standard of goalkeeping has also made huge strides.

But it also seems clear that something has been lost.

Technocrats exist in a world of statistics. What they can measure they can manage.

Atletico claim to have a gauge of a player's 'sporting form' based, if I understand correctly, on the number of times he touches the ball.

But football is too fluid for this.

Take the pass statistics. After sitting next to the people collecting them, I know what nonsense they can be.

Gabriel Caballero in action for Pachuca
Gabriel Caballero might not be considered athletic enough to get into a Brazilian club side but he tore Atletico apart

'Accurate pass by number five' they yell out as the ball is belted at knee height to the left side of a right-footed player, keeping the play so close that a loss of possession is inevitable.

Or 'inaccurate pass by the number eight' after he splits the defence and would have put the winger clean through had he read the move.

The key question in football - has the ball been used well? - cannot be answered statistically.

Brazil's technocrats are not idiots. They know that talent tips the balance in football. But they place it up front.

In the centre of midfield they are happier with what they understand - athletes who score well in the physiology tests.

Hence the fact that, where the 1970 team had Clodoaldo and Gerson in the centre of midfield, and in 1982 they had Cerezo and Falcao, in Germany this year Brazil fielded Gilberto Silva, a converted centre-back, and Ze Roberto, a converted left-back.

Atletico Paranaense were undone by two magnificent performances from Pachuca's veteran midfielder Gabriel Caballero, Argentine-born but a Mexican international.

Caballero might not be considered athletic enough to get into a Brazilian club side but he tore Atletico apart with sound technique and a true understanding of the game.

He positioned himself behind the line of the ball in order to receive possession with a view of the full field of play.

In his own half he often took the second option - feigning a pass right to draw the defence before giving the ball to the left.

Higher up the field he played quicker, looking to switch the point of attack, and his passing consistently had the quality of surprise - another fundamental which is impossible to express statistically - and ensured that Pachuca's strikers received quality service.

The sad fact is that Brazilian football is no longer producing this kind of player, which explains national team coach Dunga's prolonged experiment with Dudu Cearense deeper than the more attacking midfield role he fills for CSKA Moscow.

There is plenty, then, for Atletico's academics to think about.

But club coach Osvaldo Alvarez reacted to his team's destruction in depressingly traditional fashion. He blamed the referee.



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12 Jul 05 |  World Football


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